Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Days After Reflection

As I drove up to the church on Christmas Eve, a half hour before services were to begin, I was surprised that the parking lot was already nearly full. The foyer was packed with people waiting for the choir to finish practicing so they could find seats.

And the thought crossed my mind, as it does sometimes at the shopping mall when it is very crowded, "I wonder what they are giving away free."

It made me smile.

Because of course we were giving "it" away free. A sense of community, of belonging, of inclusion. A gift of memories, shared hymns, and familiar stories. A refuge of hope and peace and good will to all -- at least for a few hours on Christmas Eve inside that very crowded sanctuary.

And my own sense that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Not just free...priceless.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve



My homily this evening is based on Luke 2:12.

Here is how it is going to end:

The Christmas story is ultimately a story of hope…and a reminder that every baby born can bless the world. The angel reassures the shepherds, “Do not be afraid --I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The story reminds us that change can come from the most unexpected places. That we may find God, or if you prefer the sacred, where and when we least expect it. That sometimes we have to suspend our disbelief to be open to the miracles around us.

The miracle of our shared holidays together. Of family traditions. Of shared meals. Of watching someone’s face light up when the gift is just right.

May your holidays be filled with good news and great joy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Winter Solstice blessings

It's the darkest day of the year.

We know how that feels. We wake today to more news of suicide bombings, this time in Pakistan, killing people at prayer. The war continues in Iraq; poverty and hunger seem intractable in so many parts of the world; we discover yet another example of this Administration's duplicity.

We know how it feels in our own soul and lives. Yesterday, a friend of mine found out he indeed has lung cancer. On the way home from work, my husband and son just missed being in a car accident, and my husband pulled a man gasping from a smoke filled car.

But, it's also the day that light begins to return to the earth. And we also know how that feels -- feeling hope returning to our lives, a rekindling of promise and expectation that things will and can get better. Scripture teaches that "joy comes in the morning."

I choose this morning then to feel hope rekindling on this dark day.

May your holiday season be filled with light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's Teachable Moment: Celebrity Teenage Pregnancy


For those of you who don't read OK Magazine (and I'm guessing that's most of you) that's this week's issue, where 16 year old Jamie Lynn Spears, sister of Brittany and star of tween TV show, announced she's pregnant and going to have a baby.

She also tells teens in this issue that they shouldn't have premarital sex but she isn't one to judge. Nickolodeon says it respects her decision. The Today Show anchors tsked their disapproval. The AP story says her mother was shocked at first but is now supportive.

NO ONE MENTIONED CONTRACEPTION.

Parents of 8 - 18 year olds, you've been handed today's teachable moment.
They all know who she is, and I'm betting by the time school gets out today they will have all heard about it.

Ask your child what they think. Tell them YOUR values about teenagers having sexual intercourse and what you hope their decision will be. Make sure that they know that abstinence and contraception prevent pregnancies. Most of us will want our teen children to know that we want them to wait to have intercourse until they are mature enough for a sexual relationship -- and that if they do have sex as a teenager, they must use contraception and condoms to protect themselves and their lives. Tell them you hope they will talk to you if they are thinking about having sex -- and that they will come to you if they think they might be pregnant.

This will definitely be a discussion topic at my family's dinner table tonight. Tell me how it goes in your's.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pausing...

My colleagues at RH Reality Check asked me to write a piece for the holiday season on how our work in reproductive and sexual health relates to the holiday season.

Here's how I ended the piece:

These miracle stories are our stories today, and the stories of those most marginalized and most vulnerable. The stories together remind us that in the darkest of winters, in the physical world or in the dark parts of our souls, even the tiniest light can with faith become brighter and stronger, until the whole world is filled with that light once again. As reproductive and sexual health advocates, they remind us, that every human life, no matter how humble his or her beginnings, can indeed bless the entire world.

As you go through these last weeks of the year, take the time to rekindle the light within you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jane!



I have written here before how ministry has taken me to places that I never could have imagined...

Well, this was certainly one of them. On Thursday night, I had the honor of being asked by Jane Fonda to offer the invocation at her 70th birthday party gala. The gala was to benefit GCAPP, a Georgia based organization that works to prevent teenage pregnancy and support teen parents. Jane founded it seven years ago; on Thursday, the gala raised $2.4 million.

If you don't know all of the women in this picture, you surely know of them. (The women you may not recognize are Robin Morgan, Jane Wagner, Vanessa Vadim, and Eve Ensler...) I can hardly put into words how wonderful the whole evening was -- and how moved I was by the outpouring of love for this amazing woman, and her dedication and love to the young women and men of Atlanta. Because of her decision to turn her birthday into a fundraiser, 70 8th graders will now be shepherded through a 7 year program and guarenteed a college education when they finish high school. It's a replication of a program developed by one of my early teachers, Dr. Michael Carerra and I encourage you to read about it.

How amazing to offer Jane a blessing for her birthday and the grace before the meal. I ended by reminding the guests that the only prayer we ever need is "thank you, thank you, thank you" and asked them "to lift our hearts together in thanks for love and friendship and the light that fills our souls and lives."

I felt deeply grateful and blessed to be part of it all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Would You Change Your Sexual Orientation If You Could?

I'm guessing that most of my readers would say no. As sexually healthy adults, we affirm our own sexual orientation as well as those of others.

On a New York Times blog on Tuesday, John Tierney writes about intriguing new research that shows that the sexual orientation of fruit flies can be manipulated with drugs. He wonders if such a drug was available for humans, what would be the ethical considerations for its use?

Would parents be allowed to give the drug to children if they thought they might be gay? Might religious fundamentalist groups opposed to homosexuality advocate its use? Might straight women fed up with men (or vice versa) take it to change their orientation? And what impact it might have on the majority of folks who are Kinsey 2, 3, 4, and 5's?

Of course, as one doctor wrote on the site, it's a long way from fruit flies to humans. And another person asked why money was being wasted on this type of research.

Indeed. If we accepted that sexual diversity was part of God's blessing, would researchers be seeking ways to change it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Holiday musings



I spent the weekend getting into the holiday season. I went into New York City with a friend to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the decorated store windows. We went to our church carol sing on Saturday night, and yesterday, I began decorating the house. Somehow, the box with our stockings has disappeared. It seems like every year, something we just know we put away has gone into hiding.

(Did you read "The Borrowers" when you were growing up? It's still the best explanation I know for what happens to those missing socks, spools of thread, and so on...although I don't know what they did with our Christmas stockings!)

My holiday mood was marred by some of the news of the weekend. Did Mike Huckabee really say that people with AIDS should be isolated? (Apparently he did.) Did the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin really voted to leave the Episcopal Church because of its position on homosexuality? (It did.) Did Rudy Guiliani really back away from his support of gay rights on Meet the Press?

Sometimes I think I need a sabbath from the news completely.

But, I'm determined this holiday season to stay present...to not turn the season into one gigantic "to do" list but to celebrate the traditions I enjoy and to let go of those I don't....to take time each day to breathe and meditate...to slow down rather than to speed up. I hope you will as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mitt Romney -- Misses the Point

He looks like he could be president.

But, I think it's pretty safe to say, he won't be. Despite his very conservative positions on just about everything, I'm betting that evangelical Christians will not vote for him because he is a Mormon. As one Southern Baptist friend told me, "I learned in Sunday School, that the Mormons were a cult."

Yesterday, Mr. Romney gave a speech about his religious views. As a minister who values the separation of church and state, and a person of faith who upholds the rights of others to have no faith, I found his speech a sad combination of a call to uphold religious diversity while pandering to the very people, who against the Constitution, would make religion a test for national office. Mr. Romney is caught between his own faith and those who are trying to make the U.S. a "Christian nation."

I don't believe "secularism" is a dirty word. I believe that people who practice no faith at all are Americans too. I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe that religious voices have an important role to play in the public square, but never as a litmus test for public office. Mr. Romney, I can't help but wonder who you think was going to be more favorable to you after this speech.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Are Teen Births Rising?


That chart comes via the Washington Post from a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It tells us that for the first time in 14 years, there was an increase in the rates of teenage births to 41.9 births per 1000 teen women aged 15 - 19, up from 40.5 in 2005.


What the stories and the headlines don't tell you is that is approximately the same rate as 2004 and lower than it was in 2003. They also don't highlight that the birth rate was up for every age cohort of women.


So, what does this mean? Well, it may mean that after 14 years of going steadily down, indeed progress on teenage pregnancy prevention has stalled. That wouldn't surprise me because of the proliferation of abstinence-only messages that don't include contraception and because of laws that make abortions harder to get for teenagers. Indeed, it's been hard to understand how the birth rate has gone down since about 2000 because of these trends.


It's also possible that this is a one year uptick that's just an aberration in these trends, and that the teen birth rate will continue to fall or level off.


Either way, what it does mean is that we need to continue to do a better job as a culture helping teenagers avoid pregnancy. The U.S. continues to have the highest teen birth rate in the developed world. Our teenagers need their parents to educate them about sexuality; our faith communities must address adolescent sexuality; our schools must provide comprehensive sexuality education; sexually active teens must have access to reproductive health services. That's what happens in other countries that have a teen birth rate much lower than our's...that's what we need to do here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Chanukah!

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, where we retell an ancient historical story of religious freedom and a story of hope.

In case you've forgotten it, here's the basic story:

In 167 b.c.e., a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the temple in Jerusalem, had a statute of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside. Mattathias killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice as well as a state official, and he and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple. Three years from the day that Zeus was erected, the 25th of Kislav, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,170 years.

Chanukah is the first recorded battle for religious freedom and against efforts to have a minority religion assimilated into a larger whole, reason enough for us to celebrate it in today's world where religious fundamentalists claim that theirs is the only truth.

But the legend of Chanukah also speaks to me. According to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days. The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed the telling of the history from a heroic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption. It is a truth story, not a true story.

Who among us hasn't needed to find that light within during dark days of the soul? We have all needed to find hope when in the words of the song, "hope was hard to find."

So, whether or not you celebrate Chanukah, why not take a moment over the next week, to light a candle of hope...for yourself, your loved ones, and for this hurting world. Take a moment to be thankful for religious freedom and for religious diversity. And be thankful for all that is good in your life. I know I am.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Seminary Education about Sexuality

Kate Ott and I taught an intensive sexuality issues course for seminarians this weekend at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

It is always such a joy to lead this course -- although condensing a three credit, full semester course into two weekends felt a little to me like "speed teaching."

Unfortunately most clergy do not take a course on sexuality during their seminary years. As clergy, we are expected to be able to counsel couples and individuals about relationships, often without any specific training or background.

In our courses, we hope to be able to at least lay a foundation for preaching, educating, and counseling on the broad range of issues congregants face. Here's what some of our students wrote at the end of the day in a quick evaluation:

"I feel excited, affirmed, and empowered."

"I feel empowered, anxious, intrigued, and challenged to stay and work more on this issue."

"I feel equipped, engaged, eager, excited, encouraged, and inspiried..and rushed."

"I feel inspired to make sexuality a central part of my ministry."

I was especially moved by the last.

At the Religious Institute, we are just completing the first phase of a research and training project on how seminaries across the U.S. address sexuality with future clergy. There is so much to do to assure that clergy receive this important foundation during their training.

We've just started a Facebook page for seminarians to address these issues. We hope you'll help us pass the word.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Final Reflection for Turkey on Women and Religion

I think I am almost over my jetlag. Friends suggested that I try melantonin at bedtime, which seems to be helping.

I reported earlier on the anti-U.S. government tone at the meetings in Turkey. What I haven't written about was the anti-religion undertone.

I found myself one of the few women in the room to speak out for the positive role that mainstream to progressive religious leaders could play in countering religious fundamentalism and urging outreach to those faith communities. I was one of only two ordained clergy at the meeting, and it was a novely to be one of the most "conservative" voices in the room. (This is not a role that I usually assume at meetings!

Many of the activists in the room have given up on religion and indeed faith completely as a result of religious fundamentalists. We had shall we say lively conversations about whether faith has a role in the public square at all and about whether religion can have any positive impact in civil society.

It made me sad to see the positive impact that faith can have for people denigrated...and it made me proud of the work that my religion, Unitarian Universalism, is doing in the world. Most of the participants were unaware of my religion and curious (if not almost disbelieving) that we are a religion without creedal requirements and a commitment to full inclusion of women and LGBT persons.

Turkey is celebrating the 800 birthday of Rumi this year. I couldn't help but think of his lines, "Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are millions of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

***
P.S. This past Sunday, there was an article in the New York Times that featured my presentation in New York a few weeks ago. You can read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/25Rparenting.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections from Istanbul

I got back from Istanbul last night.

The world feels like a smaller place for me than it did a week ago. The conference participants included women from Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Georgia, Palestine, Israel, Mexico, Nicaraqua, Hong Kong, the Phillipines, Egypt, India, Thailand, China and the Sudan. We ranged in age from 22 to 70, stunning in our diversity yet united in our work for women's rights and against religious fundamentalism.

We were there to discuss a forthcoming study of women's rights activists from around the world, and the particular results of that study are still embargoed. But what I can share is that in every part of the world, religious fundamentalists concentrate on the control of women's sexualities as core issues for organizing. Young women are particularly at risk -- from abstinence-only-until-marriage campaigns to laws against abortion to honor killings.

I am so moved by the bravery of these women. I met an Irani woman who has been exiled to the U.S. because of her writing on women's rights; a Nicaraguan woman who spent 4 years in jail because of her work and is facing another trial because of her support for legalized abortion; women who reported great risks when they returned to their countries just to attend this joint meeting. I learned that stoning is now legal as a punishment for sex outside of marriage in the Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the UAE. (Yesterday, some of these women launched a new international campaign, called Stop Stoning and Killing Women, at a conference in Istanbul. I urge you to learn more about this horrific and now condoned practice.)

I learned that more than one in ten women activists from around the world have faced sexual abuse or imprisonment because of their activism. It made the blog comment I received this morning calling me a "satanic deviant minister from hell...who should go to jail" seem completely insignificant.

I wish you could hear the stories...but also feel the resilience, the good humor, and the commitment of these women to make the world a safer, more just place for women. We talked and talked and talked...and shared meals...and even danced a bit.

I was honored to be there and renewed and recharged -- I am reminded by a quote from Goethe, that goes something like this:

"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers, and cities; but to know someone here and there who thinks and feels with us, and who though distant, is close to us in spirit -- this makes the world for us an inhabited garden."

To my new friends and colleagues from around the world -- may justice soon roll down like mighty waters. May you truly be blessed and safe.


Friday, November 23, 2007

First Report From İstanbul

İ have been here for three days now..two days of meetıngs wıth a fantastıc dıverse group of women actıvısts from around the world, ıncludıng a sıgnıfıcant number of women under 30.

The discussıons have been lively and intense. There are only three women here from the U.S., and I must admıt to feelıng at tımes lıke I should be apologızıng for US polıcıes. It ıs clear that evangelıcal far rıght groups ın the US are havıng an ımpact around the world on women,s rıghts.

I am very aware of how prıvıleged İ am ın thıs context. People may hate what my work and mınıstry stands for, but I do not face the threat of physıcal vıolence and even ımprısonment that some of my sısters here have faced. İ can travel freely, speak freely, offer my belıefs freely, make my own sexual decısıons wıthout fear of state or fundamentalıst reprısal. Those are freedoms that feel stark,as İ lısten to women from other countrıes talk about threats and attacks.

Speakıng of whıch, I hope you wıll take a moment to respond to the prıson sentence and floggıng ımposed on the 19 year old Saudı woman as punıshment for beıng gang raped. İ am surprısed that İ have not read or seen any offıcıal US or US relıgıous response to thıs story whıch ıs beıng featured promınently on both CNN and BBC news here. İf you want background on how to respond, vısıt the Amnesty Internatıonal or Women Lıvıng Under Muslım Law web sıtes.

More on Tuesday when İ return to the US.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turkey for Thanksgiving


Literally...


I'm off on Tuesday for a weeklong trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I've been invited as one of 35 women participants, and one of only two from the United States, to a meeting sponsored by the Association for Women's Rights in Development on how religious fundamentalisms are limiting women's rights.


The AWID is "an international membership organization that works to strengthen the voice, impact, and influence of women's rights advocates, organizations, and movements internationally to effectively advance the rights of women."
I am delighted to have been invited and look forward to telling you what I learn from this amazing group of women from around the world. Watch my blog for reports!


I am sad to be missing Thanksgiving with my family. As my son said, "Mom, how ironic to miss Thanksgiving for Turkey!" But I am grateful for their support of my ministry and these opportunities.


And I am grateful to all of you -- my regular readers. You now number about a thousand people who return on a regular basis. Blessings for a wonderful Thanksgiving for you and your's.


Rev. Debra

Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcoming Transgender

This week, I led a workshop at my home congregation, the Unitarian Church in Westport, called,
"What's the T in LGBT"?

Our congregation has been a welcoming congregation for gays and lesbians for more than a decade, and we have had gay clergy and staff. Same sex couples are visible members, our religious education for youth sexual orientation openly, our social action program advocates for marriage equality, and so on.

But, we have at present, no transgender members (at least that we know of), and I'm not sure a person of transgender experience would receive the type of welcome we would want.

Twenty two of us spent the evening exploring what gender diversity means, the types of persons who are transgender, and what policies and programs we might begin to offer. The highlight of the meeting was the presentation by the director of the Connecticut Transadvocacy Coalition, who shared her personal story as well as issues facing people in Connecticut.

It was her painful history -- and her current affirmation as a transwoman -- that made the difference. Knowing people, hearing their stories, makes a difference. Meeting and knowing the people who seem like the "other" makes a difference.

It was a first step for us in becoming a trans-friendly faith community. November 20 is the National Day of Remembrance for transpeople who have lost their lives due to hate crimes. There may be an event near you. Check the link out here. Go and listen. Meet someone new. Ask yourself if you are need to know more about transgender people. Read our new guidebook, "A Time to Seek", available for downloading on our web site. Let me know what happens.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Catholic Bishops Try It Again



In case you can't make out the picture, it's nine elderly white men -- the presiding U.S. Catholic Bishops. And this morning they decided to tell all American Roman Catholics how to vote in the 2008 elections, including the expectation that they would vote against any candidate who supports legalized abortion.

This just in from the AP:

BALTIMORE - Roman Catholics voting in the 2008 elections must heed church teaching when deciding which candidates and policies to support, U.S. bishops said Wednesday.

And while the church recognizes the importance of a wide range of issues — from war to immigration to poverty — fighting abortion should be a priority, the bishops said.
"The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many," the bishops said.


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly adopted the statement, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," as they ended the public sessions of their fall meeting.
The document does not recommend specific laws or candidates, and it emphasizes that "principled debate" is needed to decide which policies best promote the common good.
But "that does not make (moral issues) optional concerns or permit Catholics to dismiss or ignore church teaching," the bishops said.

What happened then to the idea of an informed conscience -- or, separation of church and state? And really, does abortion trump all other social justice issues when deciding on which candidate to support?

My guess is that the average Roman Catholic voter will pay about as much attention to this as they do to the prohibitions against premarital sex and birth control -- which means not much.

But, it raises disturbing questions about how clergy should engage the upcoming election. It's hard to imagine that there wouldn't be a huge outcry if one of the pro-choice denominations told its members how they were expected to vote. Of course, we don't have holy communion and ex-communication to hold over their heads.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A new twist on parent/child communication about sex

Court TV caught up with me late Friday to ask what I thought about a court case where a mother pleaded guilty for talking about sex with her 11 and 15 year old.

According to the reporter, the mom answered her son's question about oral sex with detailed information about her own sexual history and showed them one of her sex toys. Her 11 year old complained about it to a counselor, and she was arrested.

Court TV wanted to know what I thought and if I thought it would send a chilling message to parents about talking to children about sex.

Now, I don't know much more about this case then what I've told you here, but it sounds more like unwise parenting practice than it does a crime. (It is possible this was part of a pattern of abusive behaviors; I just don't know that.) I don't think it's a good idea ever for parents to share their personal sexual practices with their children, even when they ask things like "Mom, do you and Dad ever...?" And it is of course both immoral and illegal to expose your children to sexually explicit materials and behaviors.

But, I don't think the state should get involved in monitoring parent child communication. How often I hear parents saying hateful or mean things to their children -- "stop being so stupid", "if you don't stop that right now, I'm going to smack you" come to mind. Labeling your child instead of labeling their behaviors. Or how about those parents who teach their children to hate and despise people who are different than their are? Surely those do more damage in the long run than providing too much information about sex.

What do you think? Should showing teenage children a personally used vibrator be a crime? Unwise for sure, but criminal?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

ENDA Passes House -- And We Should Celebrate, TODAY

I spent 13 years in Washington, D.C., working on public policy issues for much of it, and I understand how as an advocate, it's hard not to get everything you want, everything that is right.

Gracie Allen's line, "do not put a period where God has placed a comma" is running through my mind.

Late yesterday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a historic Employment Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and those of us who believe that sexual diversity is part of God's blessing, should be celebrating. First introduced in 1974, the bill took 33 years to pass. It makes it illegal “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment of the individual, because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

When the bill was introduced early this year, it included provisions to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender expression and gender identity. Those provisions were stripped when sponsors realized they did not have the votes to pass a trans-inclusive bill. That's where the inside the Beltway struggle began, with many organizations I support arguing that we needed to oppose a bill that left out the "T" of LGBT. I understood their point, supported an amendment to re-introduce protections for transgender persons into the bill, but I can't join them in not being joyful about what DID happen yesterday. And after we celebrate today, we need to get back to work. I join the call for the introduction of an ENDA that includes trans protection immediately, with public hearings to be held as soon as possible.

The conventional wisdom is that this version of ENDA, once approved by the Senate, will surely be vetoed by President Bush. It may very well be 2009 before there is a trans-inclusive ENDA. And although I understand that that means that in 39 states, people can still be fired for their gender expression, two years, given the movement towards full equality for LGBT persons is decades old, doesn't seem so far away.

We are moving towards justice on full inclusion...even if it's one step at a time. The period on full inclusion will come.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

One More Time: Abstinence Only Doesn't Work, Comprehensive Programs Do

On Monday of this week, here and at Huffington Post, I blogged about the proposed $28 million increase for the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

This morning, the National Campaign, a nonpartisan organization that has prided itself on being a "big tent" for people concerned with teenage pregnancy, bringing together conservative organizations with more mainstream groups, issued a new report, Emerging Answers 2007, that should be the final nail in the abstinence-only program.

My friend and colleague Dr. Doug Kirby is the author of the report, and after reviewing 115 rigorous studies, he concludes that a majority of the comprehensive sex education programs help young people delay and use protection when they do have sex, and that not one of the evaluated federal abstinence programs has been effective at changing teen's behaviors.

Here are a few quotes:

"In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination. … Only when strong evidence demonstrates that particular programs are effective should they be disseminated more widely."1(p. 15)

"At present, there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners. In addition, there is strong evidence from multiple randomized trials demonstrating that some abstinence programs chosen for evaluation because they were believed to be promising actually had no impact on teen sexual behavior. That is, they did not delay the initiation of sex, increase the return to abstinence or decrease the number of sexual partners."1(p. 15)

In contrast, a substantial majority of the comprehensive sex education programs reviewed—which receive no comparable federal funding—are effective. The positive outcomes included delaying the initiation of sex, reducing the frequency of sex, reducing the number of sexual partners and increasing condom or contraceptive use. "

All this from an organization that has been unwilling up until now to oppose the federal abstinence only program.

The important question though is will Congress listen to the research and stop funding these programs? The answer should be an obvious "yes".

Unfortunately, all indications are that not only will they reauthorize and refund, their going to vote more money. And it's our young people that will suffer as a result.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"For the Bible Tells Me So"



I had the opportunity to preview "For the Bible Tells Me So", and encourage you to find out if it is playing in a theater near you.

A 2007 Sundance Film Festival winner, this quick paced, visually strong documentary follows the stories of Christian families with gay children, as they seek understanding and acceptance from their churches. We meet Bishop Gene Robinson's wonderful parents and hear how former Presidential candidate Dick Gephardt and his wife learned to embrace their lesbian daughter into their life. The heartbreaking stories including a mother who learned about sexual orientation too late and an ELCA's family's struggle.

The stories are the movie's highlight and have the potential to change people's hearts on full inclusion.

The theological component focuses on what Ted Jennings has so aptly named the "clobber texts", the few verses in Leviticus and Romans that explicitly condemn same sex sexual relationships. I kept waiting for the various theologians interviewed to talk about the welcome and love messages of Scripture; it was more than an hour into the film that someone finally brought up "Love Your Neighbor As Yourself."

In my work, I have found it much more helpful to talk about verses on love and inclusion, the great commandments, the Good Samaritan, and the eunuch texts than to try to convince a fundamentalists that the four to six clobber texts aren't authoritative or were really about pagan rites. In our new book, A Time to Seek: A Study Guide on Sexual and Gender Diversity, we compute that these clobber texts make up less than .03% of the Bible.
In contrast, the central messages of love for one's neighbor, welcome of the stranger, and justice for the poor and the oppressed appear throughout both the Hebrew and Christian testaments.

1 John 4:11 - 12 are two verses though that sum up the call to full inclusion: "Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us."

That's what my Bible tells me so.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Just Say No to Increases in Abstinence Funds

Unbelievably, it looks like the Democratically-controlled US Congress is going to agree to the Bush Administrations request for MORE monies for abstinence-only-until-marriage education. The new total in the reconciled appropriations bill is $141 million, $28 million more than it was this year.

Here's some news from our friends at SIECUS:

Last year, CBAE grantees received $113 million in federal funding. While the Senate version of the appropriations bill this year reduced funding to $85 million, the House version increased it by an equal amount to $141 million. The version of the bill that came out of the conference committee more closely resembled the House version by increasing CBAE funding to the President’s requested level of $141 million. This money can only be spent on programs that teach abstinence-only-until-marriage and are subject to heavy restrictions. For example, any program that receives CBAE funds has to teach that "sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." ...

CBAE is one of three federal funding streams for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Combined, these revenue sources have given more than $1 billion in federal funds to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs since their inception. The last two Republican-led sessions of Congress did not increase funding for these initiatives. The $28 million increase proposed under the current bill would be the second largest increase for these programs in history.

How is this possible? Weren't we promised something better? Is it too much to hope that the Congress will stop supporting a program that is known to be ineffective, that denies young people full and accurate information, and that ignores the fact that almost all Americans have their first sex outside of marriage?

It's time to honor a commitment to truth telling. It's time for Congress to learn to "just say no."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Annual Reminder



I had my annual mammogram this morning, and it seems like a good occasion to remind readers of the importance of regular screenings for women over 35 and younger women with risk factors.


Mammograms aren't comfortable, and it is hard not to feel some anxiety waiting for the results. I've known too many women with breast cancer -- most are survivors, but some have died way too prematurely. I call to mind women I know who died and am blessed by their memory, and the women I know who are struggling right now. In the past month, two women I know have found out they have breast cancer and another is dealing with a re-occurence. I know you have your own names.


But, we also know that early detection is our best hope for recovery. And that means monthly self breast exams and annual mammograms. And our prayers for all those affected, including their families.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Common Ground on Abortion

I'm out in Los Angeles for a series of meetings on LGBT issues, and came across this editorial in the LA Times that I wanted to recommend to you.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-richards29oct29,0,5202785.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail

The editorial, written by my long term colleage Cory Richards from the Guttmacher Institute, examines what he calls the "adoption vs abortion myth." We often hear from politicians as well as evangelical leaders that efforts to increase adoptions is part of the common ground strategy to reduce the numbers of abortions in the U.S.

Richard presents compelling U.S. and international data on why increasing adoptions is not a realistic strategy for decreasing abortions. He reminds us that the best way to decrease abortions is to decrease the number of unintended pregnancies, through contraception and through sexuality education that encourages young people to delay and to use protection.

That's not only good public health, that's good moral sense. Although I firmly believe that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy should be supported no matter what her decision (becoming a parent, relinquishing a child for adoption, having an abortion), what I feel even more strongly about is that I wish that all pregnancies were created deliberately, with love, in loving families. It is both a public health and moral disgrace that half of all pregnancies in the US are unintentional, even in the 21st century.

Surely real common ground is assuring through contraception and sex education that all pregnancies are planned, wanted, and indeed, cherished.

Monday, October 29, 2007

News from the Weekend: Teens, Sex, and a Premature Obituary

Over the weekend, there was a lot of sexuality-related news:

*The Georgia Supreme Court commuted the prison sentence of Genarlow Wilson. You may remember that he is the young man who has served two years for having consensual oral sex when he was 17 and she was 15, but was sentenced to 10 years.

*The Maine State Attorney General is now investigating the Portland School Board's decision to provide birth control to middle school students and not reporting those students as victims of sexual abuse.

*And the New York Times magazine once again declared the death of the radical religious right.

Both the Georgia and Maine situations indicate how confused the culture is about adolescent sexuality and sexual offenses. Surely, we all agree that there need to be laws protecting children and teens from being abused by adult sex offenders. Let me be absolutely clear: I do not believe that children and teens can ever give consent to adults who want to be sexual with them. But, do we want teenagers going to jail for having consensual sex with each other? Or, to have to report two thirteen years olds, who although by almost any standard are not emotionally or spiritually ready for intercourse, to the department of family services? And if not jail, what might be appropriate punishment?

It seems to this minister and mom that this is where communication with your children comes in and good sexuality education programs. I heard Mr. Wilson this morning on the Today Show say that teens need to know what the state law is about consent, and indeed, I'd add they need opportunities to discuss what it means for a relationship to be consensual. In Maine, I continue to believe that health professionals should act as health professionals, counseling on delay and involving families, but offering services to teens who need them. Let's let the clergy and parents provide the moral lessons.

As to the New York Times, as I said when Jerry Falwell died, reports of the death of religious conservatives is premature. As someone who advocates for the rights of women and LGBT persons, it's not time to celebrate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Return to the Dark Ages in Elementary School

Education Week this week ran an article called "Teaching Chivalry in the Classroom" by Judith Costello, who comes from an organization called Christian.com.

The article tells the story of a school program that teaches 4th grade boys to be knights and 4th grade girls to be ladies-in-waiting as part of an anti-bullying program. You have to read this excerpt for yourself:

The image of knights and ladies came to mind. Ever since a group of medieval re-enactors had visited the area, my daughter had been interested in that time period. Mrs. Cavasos decided that this theme could be integrated easily into the anti-bullying program the school was using.
The boys would be given opportunities to be physical in the context of preparing themselves to be “defenders and protectors of all that is good, true, and right.” The girls would be given opportunities to seek out beauty and learn about healing. As ladies they would be the “nurturers and caretakers of all that is good, true and right.”

We used art activities, read stories about dragons, created costumes, studied new vocabulary words, and researched the medieval time period. We learned about the use of herbs for pharmacological needs.

Using their fine motor skills, the girls worked on creating headdresses and decorating their castle. The boys used large motor skills to create huge dragon posters that they helped to string up between trees.

The culmination of our efforts was an outdoor dramatization that students and teachers in other classrooms envied. Several other teachers opened their classroom doors to see what was happening as dragons passed through the hallways and out to the trees. Teachers looked outside to hear the dialogue as young knights went into battle. They were interested to see the knights use all their energy to slay those terrible dragons with beanbags. And when the knights fell to the ground, a group of beautiful young ladies rushed to their sides with healing herbs from the pouches they had created.


It's upsetting to me that Education Week would run this story of educational sexism and gender stereotyping without comment. What about allowing children to choose which part they want? What about girls who want to slay dragons or boys who want to heal and nurture (to say nothing about developing fine motor skills in boys or large motor skills in girls)? Or, goodness, what about encouraging both boys and girls to take both parts, learning to be both "defenders" and "nurturers and caregivers" -- for surely we all need to be both in adulthood? And I can't even begin to imagine how a gender variant child might have felt in this classroom.

As a mother of a son and a daughter, if this had happened when they were in elementary school, I would have spoken out against such rigid gender reinforcing in the classroom. Was there no outcry?

The purpose of the program was said to be to teach children to treat each other with respect. Surely this message could be given without resorting to the dark ages.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Senator Obama and Support for Lesbian and Gay Persons

There is a lot of buzz going on today about Senator Obama including Donnie McClurkin in an upcoming gospel tour of South Carolina.

Now, I have to admit until this morning I had never heard of Mr. McClurkin, but he is a Grammy award winning gospel singer and also apparently according to Wikepedia and news reports, a person who claims his desire for sex with men was cured through prayer. There seems to be some disagreement about whether he is anti-gay, but in response to criticism, the Obama campaign posted this statement today on its web site:

I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country. I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.

Some commentators are calling for the Senator to disinvite Rev. McClurkin, but I am frankly pleased with how much better Obama seems to be getting in affirming lesbian and gay rights. Remember, this is the man who needed 24 hours to get it right about General Pace's homophobic comments.

I don't believe that people can change their sexual orientation through prayer - or therapy - but I do believe that people can choose their behaviors, and perhaps that is what has changed for Rev. McClurkin. More importantly, I believe in the right to free speech, and that the cure for hate speech isn't censorship but more speech.

So if I was advising the Senator, I'd encourage him to include a gospel singer or another minister who affirms sexual and gender diversity in this upcoming tour, and to take the time to reiterate his support for full inclusion. We hope Obama might borrow from our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity":

"Sexual and gender oppression can no longer be portrayed as virtuous and morally defensible."
I

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Helping Couples Enjoy Monogamy -- In Churches!

We hear a lot these days from evangelical leaders about their concerns about AIDS in Africa. I've just learned about a fascinating project in Mozambique, courtesy of a British group called The Pleasure Project.

Here's the description:


Among these was the highly successful Vida Positiva (Positive Living) programme in Mozambique. One of the many elements of Vida Positiva was to promote safer sex among couples by tackling the primary reasons that married men were having sex outside of their marriages: because they were bored with their sex lives at home. To do this, educators worked with community ‘gatekeepers’, including priests and nuns from Christian churches, to promote pleasure-focused couples counselling....


Kubatsirana is an ecumenical HIV/AIDS Association of 56 churches in and around
Chimoio, Mozambique, and in seven areas of Sofala and Manica Provinces. Kubatsirana
provides HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation within four programmes:
• Church training and technical support programme
• Home-Based Care for PLWHA and OVC
• A support group for people living with HIV/AIDS
• Sustainable Agriculture and Income-Generating Project as a support to PLWHA,
OVC and volunteers working for the programmes


The Church Training programme includes training church leaders as well as husband
and wife couples to become Marriage Counsellors in their communities. The training
includes communication skills, gender-roles, conflict resolution, sex and sexuality and pre-marriage counselling and relies on two publications: "Enjoy your Marriage"
(Cunningham, Family Impact, Bulawayo) and "Answers for your Marriage” (Bruce and
Carol Britten, SA), which is very detailed in everything from positions to cultural issues.


According to Kubatsirana’s Technical Advisor, Carina Winberg: "We have started to do
something about the problems of couples not enjoying their sexual realtionships. Three or four years ago we identified this problem among the pastors, couples and families we work with, and then decided to bring it up as a subject in the prevention courses for pastors and church leaders. Last year we started separate courses for church leaders and their wives on what we call "Couples Counselling and Retreats". We have one very good couple (husband and wife team) teaching both men and women. Just a few weeks ago we trained 20 pastors on topics such as:
• how to improve your sexual relationship
• how to counsel couples in your church on sexual matters
• how to give pre-marriage counselling
• how to follow-up with young couples in order to support them in building a good
relationship.



It strikes me that we could use this type of project here in the United States as well. Surely in the search for common ground with evangelical leaders, we could also agree to MARRIAGE ENRICHMENT, including sexual enrichment, for married couples.



Perhaps we could start with offering such a workshop for married Members of Congress.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Middle School Birth Control?

You have may seen the story last week about the Maine School Board that voted to allow its school based clinics to prescribe birth control.

Read my thoughts at Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-debra-haffner/good-news-about-adolescen_b_69345.html

(They only accept original blog entries on breaking news, so that's why that's there and not here...)

Reclaiming the Values Vote

You probably know that this weekend the far right organization, the Family Research Council, held its so called Values Voters summit in Washington, D.C. Each of the Republican hopefuls came to woo the crowd, with Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney emerging as the straw poll favorites.



Colleagues at Faith in Public Life and Faithful Democrats blogged throughout the conference. It's worth reading their reports.



For any of my colleagues who hope to change the dialog on values from as Laurie Goodstein reported in the New York Times on Thursday "the hot button issues of abortion and homosexuality", this weekend's speeches will demonstrate dramatically why we must continue to speak out about OUR VALUES about sexual justice. (And please, could we all stop labeling these as "hot button" as if other issues like Iraq, gun control, the environment, and so on, are not controversial as well?)



My hat is off to Rudy Guiliani who spoke at the summit, but refused to back away from his commitment to women and gay persons. One can only hope for as much from his Democratic opponents.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Moving Lesson in Judgements

I'm in Cleveland right now, speaking at four events co-sponsored by the Christian Community's Faith Matters project. Last night, I spoke to parents from local churches. This morning, I spoke at a clergy breakfast, and in a bit, I will speak to a group of sexual and reproductive health professionals on how to reach out to faith communities. I'll write more about insights from this trip next week.

For today and the weekend, I;ve decided to post this clip of a man singing in a contest. I almost never forward these type of things when I get them on my email, but I want to invite you to click and spend four minutes watching and listening.

CLICK HERE.


What does this have to do with sexuality and religion? Everything, I think. Watch the faces of the judges and the audience pre-judge this man based on what he looks like and where he works. Think about how perhaps you have judged others. Open your heart to what happens as he begins to sing. Let the tears come. Watch what happens when people respond to his dignity and self worth.

It's a four minute sermon on love your neighbor. Really, take the time and click here. And invite your friends to watch too. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deja Vu Appointment, All Over Again



Could this woman be smiling because she's just been named the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, which means she's now in charge of the nation's family planning program?

Dr. Susan Orr, like other recent Bush appointees to the position, actually opposes federal support for contraception. She is a former official with the anti-choice Family Research Council. According to news reports, she has fought against federal employees health insurance including contraception, has taught abstinence-only-until-marriage education, and cheered the Mexico City Gag Rule. I haven't found anything about whether she has actually worked against the Title X family planning program, which provides access to services for low income women, but I'm guessing she's not going to be a big supporter of services to adolescents.

It's hard to believe that the Bush administration keeps trying to appoint people who philosophically oppose the national commitment to the reproductive health needs of women (a program supported by more than 8 in 10 Americans) to run these programs. Once again, we need to ask Congress to investigate and block this appointment.

Let's remind people across the spectrum on abortion that as people of faith, it is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious, that we can all agree that it never be created carelessly or because services were not available. It would indeed be common ground to ask for a secretary of population affairs who supports family planning services.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Comprehensive Sexuality Education IS the Moral Response

An article in today's Los Angeles Times describes recent action in the Democratic controlled House of Representatives to provide additional funding for the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage program.

During the coming months, both the House and the Senate will have several opportunities to either eliminate this ineffective program, reduce its funding, or continue it. According to the LA Times article, it seems that no one wants to look like they are voting against abstinence.

But, that's not what a vote to end this program would be. Indeed, a vote to assure that states have the latitude to decide how to implement sex education programs and that programs are both medically accurate and proven effective is a vote to assure programs that might actually have a chance of helping young people delay.

Today, the Religious Institute, with help from our friends at SIECUS, delivered 535 letters on Capital Hill (one to every Senator and Representative) urging them to oppose abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and providing them with copies of our "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sex Education."

Here's in part what the letter said:

In the next few months, you will be voting on whether to reauthorize abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. As a national coalition of religious leaders, the Religious Institute urges you to vote for comprehensive sexuality education and against programs that withhold critical information from the nation’s young people.

There are strong public health arguments for comprehensive sexuality education, but as religious leaders, we are specifically asking you to keep in mind the moral foundations for supporting sexuality education as you vote – education that respects all people, honors truth telling, and promotes the highest ethical values in human relationships.

...

Our theological commitment to truth telling calls us to speak out against abstinence-only- until-marriage programs. Programs must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and truthful. Education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than programs based on incomplete information, fear, and shame. The fact is that programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and STD prevention fail our nation’s young people.


Now, it's your turn. Let your Congresspeople know that as a person of faith you want federal programs that both encourage young people to delay and help them protect themselves, either now or in the future.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Time for a New Religious Home?


Today was Association Sunday across the country for Unitarian Universalist congregations.


Although my organization, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, works with congregations and clergy from across the spectrum of religious institutions, I am proud to be an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and proud of the work that UU congregations do to be sexually healthy faith communities and advocate for sexual justice.


If you are happy in your religious home and how it treats sexuality issues -- or if you are happy not belonging to a faith community -- read no further.


But every week as I speak across America, I meet people who have given up on their religion or their faith, often precisely because of the way it handles sexuality issues. So if that's you, I want to share with you our good news: that the Unitarian Universalist Association is one denomination that does not ask you to choose between being religious or being sexual, but instead affirms the dignity and worth of all people. We have a long history of supporting women's right to abortion, the rights of LGBT people, the need for comprehensive sexuality education -- and an even longer history of the right to tolerance, freedom of the pulpit, and the freedom to seek your own theological answers to your questions. An upcoming ad in Time magazine for the UUA promises, "Find and Ye Shall Seek."


If this sounds like it might be home for you, I hope you'll visit http://www.uua.org/ and find a congregation near you. Try us out some Sunday. We might be just what you are looking for.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More "Reasoning Together"

I've received a number of emails off line about yesterday's post on "Come Let Us Reason Together" and I've now had the time to read the paper carefully several times.

First, here's the link directly to the paper: http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/content/feature/upload/2007/10/Third%20Way%20report.pdf Apparently, some of you couldn't get to what I posted yesterday.

And I do encourage you to read the paper -- slowly and carefully. The authors say that they are "writing primarily for progressives who too often have an impoverished understanding of Evangelicals." If that's you, this presents a good history, up-to-date polling data on attitudes and voting by Evangelicals, and I think some encouraging data about how half of evangelicals are progressive or moderate on social issues (I think the one fifth, one third, one half formula is very helpful.) I also think that the section on "shared principles for the role of religion in the public square" is very useful, especially for those of us who work with people whose religiophobia protests public engagement by religious leaders.

Second, I misspoke in yesterday's email about the role of some organizations -- I now know for sure that colleagues at Americans United and HRC were asked for review and comments, and the Union of Reform Judaism's President was included in a list of supporting statements. Nevertheless, (and please Third Wave correct me if I'm wrong), pro-choice religious organizations were not interviewed, quoted, read, or consulted for the section of the report on these issues.

Indeed, had this report been titled and promoted differently, I might have easily recommended it to you as what one supporter identifies it is: "a response to progressives about evangelicals." Had the report been labeled as an effort to find common ground for "those who consider themselves progressive and evangelical" with those who are conservative evangelicals (which indeed is what it seems to be), I would have hailed it as a vital first step. Both one of the authors and a staff person from Faith in Public Life have written on a faithbloggers list serv, partially in response to my post, that this is only a first step and that they know that they didn't present the history, polling data, or wide range of views of progressive religious people on these issues.

But, then why promote it, as the subtitle and the press releases suggest as "A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Progressives and Evangelicals" while acknowledging that you are aiming it at a particular audience. Does Third Way have a report planned to help evangelicals understand US? Because surely the history of the progressive movement for social reform, the attitudes of progressive and mainstream religious people, and the movements for sexual and social justice would be equally enlightening to the evangelical movement.

But, let me take their conclusion at face value: they say that this report offers "first steps across that [the cultural divide] bridge." It is indeed important to seek common ground, and I believe that there is vast mainstream support for the vast majority of sexual justice issues. Just for starters, Americans of all types of backgrounds support sexuality education, HIV prevention, the availability of contraception, safeguards for children on the Internet, the need to strengthen families, stem cell research and the civil rights (including employment rights) of gays and lesbians in large majorities. At the Religious Institute, we've participated in some very exciting common ground efforts on reproductive rights (and I'll be sending that report on to the folks at Third Wave) and our Open Letters provide solid theological support for sexual justice.

We believe that there is common ground and a need for respectful dialog and engagement. We don't believe that we are part of a "cultural war" but rather responding to people's deep need and hunger for sexual healing and justice. Third Wave, we look forward to talking with you about your planned next steps and how to bring religious professionals who are progressive on sexual justice issues into your conversations -- and next reports.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Common Ground Requires Both Sides

I was at an all day meeting yesterday sponsored by the Guttmacher Institute on the role of faith based organizations and community based organizations in providing sexuality education, so I missed the release of a new report by the Third Wave Foundation, “Come Let Us Reason Together.”

It’s a long report that purports to be about offering “shared cultural values between evangelicals and progressives”, especially on five sexuality-related issues. I hoped to find a balanced report of a process of finding common ground.

But, it doesn’t even try. The authors are leading evangelicals and people associated with the Third Way Foundation. Although I like and work with one of the authors, I think it’s fair to say that there is scant representation of progressive religious voices in the report. Indeed, although the report includes sections such a “Brief History of Evangelicals” and “Evangelical Views Are More Nuanced than Believed” there is no corresponding history of progressive religion or how progressive religious people’s views are too not the stereotypes so often presented. The Sources listed do not present even a single progressive religious author writing on the five key issues. And needless to say, no one contacted us here at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing for our input and review. But not just us – the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice, Catholics for a Free Choice, faith based welcoming groups…no, not quoted and probably not consulted either.

I encourage you to read the report, and I think it raises some good issues, specifically about the need for respect and understanding and seeking common ground. I want to take the time to read it throughly, before I write more about how they treat the five issues. (Although as I have written before, I am willing to join in a call for reducing unintended pregnancies but not on reducing abortions, not as long as availability is under attack.)

But for now I have one question for my friends and colleagues at Faith and Public Life: How do you issue a call for common ground that doesn’t include half of the participants in the discussion?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bad vibrations

A Southern Baptist minister friend sent me this link to a story this weekend:

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jVTk0RxEEvO0n78b2XK1H8vSPXiQD8S0L3FO1

It turns out that in addition to not hearing the two church/state cases I wrote about last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear a case about whether its constitutional to prohibit the sale of sex toys in Alabama. Their action means the law now says it is illegal to sell vibrators in Alabama, as well as Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

Now, to be clear, the law doesn't prohibit one from owning or using a sex toy in those states, or from selling a medical device (think back massager) that could be used for some other, ie, non-sexual, purpose. It's just selling anything that has an exclusive purpose of sexual pleasure, specifically genital pleasure.

I admit I haven't read the court documents on the case, and I certainly understand why the Justices might not have wanted to issue opinions about it (I'll leave it to Jon Stewart or SNL to take a shot at Judge Thomas' likely response) -- but I don't get it.

How can selling guns that kill people be legal when vibrators are not?



Friday, October 05, 2007

Read me on Senator Craig on Huffington Post!

I'm excited to tell YOU, my regular readers, that today I became an officially approved Huffington Post blogger.

You can read my column on Senator Craig's latest announcement here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-debra-haffner/redeeming-senator-craig_b_67348.html

And if you can add a comment there or even tell them I'm one of your favorite bloggers, that would be great.

Have a lovely long weekend.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Knicks Knicked...for $10 million

I cheered to myself this morning when I heard that the jury had awarded Anucha Brown Sanders $10 million dollars in her sexual harassment suit against Isaiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden. In her press conference yesterday she said something like, "I brought the suit for all working women."

I was struck by the irony that this suit was settled the same week that Clarence Thomas is back in the news, saying that Anita Hill's description of his illegal sexualized behavior was false.

Like countless other women, I have been sexually harassed in the workplace and lost my job because of it. It happened more than 30 years ago when I was fired from a teaching assistant position because I said no to sex with the professor. Except in 1975, people didn't talk about sexual harassment, instead teaching young women as one person I complained to said, "stuff like that happens to women. Look for another position. No one will believe you anyway."

I didn't tell anyone else. Sixteen years later, during the Clarence hearings, people said, "She must be lying. Otherwise she would have complained about it earlier."

Except we didn't -- out of fear, out of shame, out of believing that it was just something that sometimes happened to women.

Sexual harassment is now illegal in the workplace, and women and men today know better than to make degrading sexual statements or unwelcome sexual advances...that after the first "no", all requests should cease.

Well, not all men and women. Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan who fired Ms. Brown Sanders should have known better. May they serve as a reminder to us all.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Preventing Domestic Violence is More Than A Ribbon

I was reminded today at a local clergy association meeting that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We were given purple ribbons to indicate our support of survivors.

It's easy to scoff at the preponderance of special days and special months, but in this case, at least for me, it was an important reminder. Domestic violence is one of those issues that is talked about too little, often acknowledged too late in faith communities.

It brought me back to the summer of 1975 when I was looking for my first job. I had applied for a position at a local domestic violence center in Washington, D.C. and was seated in the reception area waiting for an interview. A woman, with a broken nose and split lip and two noisy toddlers sat across from me. Every once in a while, I sidled an uncomfortable glance at her.

She looked right at me. "You don't think you could ever end up this way do you? Well, college girl, I went to Smith and graduated from there five years ago. I married the wrong guy and this is how I ended up. You could end up this way too."

I didn't get the job, but I've never forgotten her.

She may still be sitting in your pews. There are lots of ways women (and men) can be abused, not all physical. Domestic violence knows no bounds by income, religion, or race.

More than wearing a ribbon, ask yourself what you can do to reach out to people who may be victims, what you can do to help prevent personal intimate violence.

Remembering is only a start.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Women!

The Supreme Court convened on Monday and passed on hearing two court cases brought by conservative religious groups.

From the AP story:

The Supreme Court refused today to expand the rights of church groups, turning down appeals in a pair of cases.In the first, the justices rejected a free-speech claim from an evangelical minister from Northern California who wanted to hold worship services in the meeting room of a public library.

In the second, the court rejected a freedom-of-religion claim from Catholic Charities in New York, which objected to a state law that requires them to pay for contraceptives for their employees as part of their prescription drug coverage. New York, California and more than 20 other states have adopted laws that require employers to include birth control pills in their drug coverage. Though churches are exempted from these laws, the exemption does not extend to church-related groups.

To this religious leader, the Supreme Court has correctly drawn the line between the separation of church and state. Women who work for church related institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, should not be denied insurance coverage for family planning services, and clearly worship does not belong in a public library. And after last year's decision on late term abortions, it's good to know that at least for this year, there isn't an opportunity for the Court to curtail women's rights.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Moving In Day!

Today is moving in day for the Religious Institute.

Six years ago, Rev. Larry Greenfield and I had a vision of a new organization that would bring a progressive religious voice to sexuality issues.

Six years later, we have professional offices in Westport, CT, four staff members, and we are recognized as the leading multifaith advocate for sexual health, education, and justice in America's faith communities.

You can read more about our work at our web site and sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.

And wish us well as we begin our next chapter in our organization's development.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Week End Good News! Hate Crimes Prevention Bill Passes

Looking beyond the Episcopal Bishops, it was a good week for sexual rights.

The Bishops in Connecticut decided that Plan B (emergency contraception) can be distributed in Catholic hospitals (a day ahead of the law telling them it had to be offered.)

Verizon changed its policy decision about allowing NARAL, a pro-choice group, to use its text messaging system.

And most importantly, the Senate passed the Hate Crimes Bill by a large margin early today.

My colleague Harry Knox over at HRC sent out the following message:

The Mathew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed today by a vote of 60 to 39 in the Senate, an excellent margin! This is a huge victory for the LGBT community and for people of faith who believe that no one ought to live in fear because of who they are.

I believe to the bottom of my soul that we got this far because of the work of the faith community. Senator Kennedy’s office seems to think so as well. We got a frantic e-mail from our legislative team last night to help find scriptural passages in support of Hate Crimes and on the Senate Floor today Kennedy brought up the clergy sign-on letter for Hate Crimes that many of you signed. He also quoted from the letter on the floor.

All the work leading up to this day from the Clergy Call for Justice and Equality in April, to the letters, and sermons, and post cards, and phone calls, and editorials, and even the informal conversations you had in the hallways made this day possible. We are grateful beyond words to be in the company of such fine people.

Me too...and all of you who are working for sexual justice on so many fronts. Celebrate yourselves this weekend.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Episcopal Bishops Leave Us Nothing to Celebrate

I'm just back from the National Religious Leaders Roundtable meeting in Washington, D.C., an organization sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We are a diverse group of religious leaders supporting full equality and full inclusion of LGBT persons in society and in the life of the church.

I'm proud to be an elected member of the Steering Committee, and leave these meetings with a renewed sense of excitement and purpose about this part of my ministry. I'm grateful to Phil Soucy from Lutherans Concerned who suggested using "Advocates" instead of "Allies" as the "A" in LGBTQQIA in response to the issues I raised here a few weeks ago.

How sad it was then to read about the decision by the Episcopal Bishops in this morning's New York Times. Here's what it said:

In a voice vote, all but one bishop supported a resolution, called “A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by Our Anglican Communion Partners.” Several conservative bishops who are considering leaving the Episcopal Church were not in attendance. The resolution affirmed the status quo of the Episcopal Church, both theological conservatives and liberals said.

It states, for example, that it “reconfirms” a call to bishops “to exercise restraint” by not consenting to the consecration of a partnered gay bishop. It also says the bishops promise not to authorize “any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions.” Still, some bishops allow such blessings to occur in their dioceses.

Both positions have been stated in past meetings of the governing body of the church, the General Convention.

In other words, they did not renounce their previous decision to elect Gene Robinson Bishop, but surely did not move further to fully include lesbian and gay persons in the denomination. I'm sure that this was seen as a compromise and an attempt to hold the worldwide communion together.

But, it was a compromise made by considering some of God's children less deserving of serving and of living family lives sanctified by the church they love, and I don't see anything to celebrate. I am certain though that one day, maybe not even so long from now, that justice will prevail. Until then, we'll just have to work and pray harder.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Plant It This Afternoon

I spent part of Yom Kippour in the healing gardens of the historic Episcopal Church in my town. The church advertises itself as offering radical welcome to all -- and in case there is any doubt what that means, it hosts the local Pride Day celebration and monthly gay bingo.

I couldn't help but wonder how they will be affected by what happens at the meeting of the American Episcopal Bishops this weekend in New Orleans. The Bishops are expected to stand up to the larger Anglican community which asked them to renounce their election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, to Bishop. Their decision is expected by Tuesday. I know that many are praying both for a wider welcome and that the worldwide communion holds.

As I offered prayers, meditated, and read the Bible in this quiet garden, my eye fell on this quote, supposedly told by John F. Kennedy. It is both a call to justice and a reminder that change comes slowly.

The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree.
The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach
maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, "in that case, there is no time
to lose. Plant it this afternoon."

I'm off to Washington DC on Monday and Tuesday for the Religious Roundtable meeting of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We're doing Congressional visits about ENDA.

I'd like to think we are planting (fast growing) trees.